Pioneer spirit inspires exploits

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 12:00am

Immigrants and exiles, the pioneers who made Ha'aretz - the Land - their home, struggled against adverse conditions to rebuild and defend the small, semi- arid country and shaped its cultural, national and religious identity, says Rafael Aharoni, chairman of the Israeli Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

This spirit is still burning, he reminds us, pointing to the transformation Israel has made from exporting agricultural produce such as oranges in the early days, to manufacturing innovative, hi- tech and low-tech products for global markets.

'Israel is a land of immigrants,' Mr Aharoni said. 'The state was fortunate to receive many immigrants.' Indeed, Israel's population of about six million is a mosaic of people from a variety of backgrounds and traditions.

Proclaiming the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, on the date the British Mandate over Palestine expired, David Ben-Gurion observed how Jews 'returned in their masses', and how the pioneers, ma'pilim (Hebrew), 'made the desert bloom'.

Independence Day, which is marked today, is preceded by Remembrance Day, Yom Hazikaron. Recalling with gratitude those who sacrificed their lives for independence, Mr Aharoni describes it as an historical event that epitomised the determination to survive amid catastrophes such as the holocaust and the constant danger of war with neighbours.

But the lesson is, he said: 'What we can achieve, any country can achieve.' He adds emphasis by citing Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian political and spiritual leader. '. . . Whatever is possible for me is possible even for a child, and I have a sound reason for saying so . . .' He cites the saying from an autobiography by Professor K. D. Gangrade. The book analyses and interprets the moral lessons from the Mahatma's life and thoughts.

Mr Aharoni, who has witnessed Hong Kong's transformation over the past 30 years, believes Israel's experience could be a road map for Hong Kong, now that the city has embarked on a hi-tech journey to hone its competitive edge in the digital age.

Some tangible results have already been achieved on this front and both governments believe there is more room for co-operation. Mr Aharoni points out that mutual relations in various spheres will be founded on the virtues common to both peoples.

'The Chinese and Jewish people share common values, like family bonds, hard work, determination to succeed, integrity, dignity and a vision for a long- term relationship,' he said.

When the two peoples agree to a contract, he adds, 'the personal guarantee and the commitment to honour it, is assured'.

The desire to share the lessons of its own development experience stems from Israel's foreign policy. Resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict while preserving the state's security is also a foreign policy objective.

Referring to the Syrian-Israeli talks, which resumed in December, and the continuing negotiations between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, aimed at drawing up a peace treaty, Mr Aharoni hopes peace may open up more avenues for business and investment as well as other areas of co-operation.

Even now, there is a reasonable amount of trade, in terms of value and volume, with the Arab neighbours. Exports to Arab countries increased 44 per cent to US$29 million in the first quarter of the year, the Globes business newspaper reported last week.

Exports to Morocco increased 90 per cent to US$2 million, while sales to Saudi Arabia surged 274 per cent to US$277,000. And sales to Jordan went up 49 per cent to US$6.3 million. Imports from Arab countries in the same period fell slightly to US$11 million. Israel imports food, agricultural and chemical products from Jordan, and processed food, beverages, tobacco and non-metal minerals products from Morocco, the newspaper said. Exports to Egypt were up by 69 per cent to US$16 million.

Israel exports mostly plastics and chemical products, textiles, machinery and electrical equipment. Exports to the United Arab Emirates, mostly machinery and mechanical instruments, increased 29 per cent to US$205,000 while sales to Lebanon grew 19 per cent to US$3.7 million.

The paper reports that the growth in trade stems from political developments, although it appears that trade is increasingly characterised by stability and mutual economic interests.

However, durable peace may mean that the existing bonds of co-operationwill strengthen further, Mr Aharoni said.

Kapila Bandara